It's all change for life on the Edge

Eleven months of the year Beacon Hill Farm is devoted to tractors, combine harvesters, the growing of wheat, barley and oilseed rape but from next weekend it makes an annual transformation into its now better known alias as Woolley Edge Christmas Tree Farm '“ and it's also when livestock numbers increase from nought to two.

Cheryl Noble checks the height of one of the trees. Pictures by Scott Merrylees.

“We have a couple of reindeer,” says Martin Noble who with his wife, Cheryl, operates the growing business that sees Santa Claus take time out from his busy schedule to ensure the reindeer are fed each Saturday and Sunday morning at 10am.

“Otherwise that’s as far as we go for livestock here, although we do have pigs on a bed and breakfast basis at another farm we have elsewhere.”

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Beacon Hill Farm is where Cheryl grew up with her parents Billy Platts, who was joint winner of The Yorkshire Post Agricultural Show Volunteer award last month, and Pauline Harrison. Billy and Cheryl are in a family partnership.

Martin, his brother Peter and their mum, Dorothy, are in a limited company farm business that sees the brothers in a share farming arrangement at Beacon; while also farming together at the farm where Martin grew up at Thurnscoe and another block of land near Rotherham.

“Our overall farming acreage with various owned land and several rents and tenancies runs to around 750 acres of combinable crops and 100 acres of grass supplying haylage most notably to South and West Yorkshire Police.

“The crops side has always interested me more than livestock and we’re presently battling like many round here with ryegrass problems. Fortunately, the current grain price is performing reasonably with feed wheat around the £140s per tonne.

“Mid-November and December had traditionally been the times when maintenance jobs were undertaken on farm, as they still are today, but of course they don’t bring anything in. It was around 2005 that we decided on trying to do something that would have an income and we bought in 400 trees from a wholesaler.

“We had to order another 40 to keep up with that early demand, which gave us the impetus to look at expanding into buying more and planting our own. We’re now selling a good deal more than when we started.

“We planted our first trees in 2010 and have just begun harvesting a small number of our own as they take around eight years to get to the height of between 5 and 8ft that customers are looking for – and more recently the trend is moving towards the 7-8ft from 6-7ft. We now have 36,000 in the ground, mainly Nordmann Fir with Norway Spruce, Fraser Fir and Douglas Fir. Eventually we’d like to get to 50,000 with a 10-year cycle of harvesting 5,000 a year.’

While Martin and Cheryl’s Woolley Edge Christmas Tree Farm opens its gates for the 2017 festive season next weekend, Martin is aware that he is selling a product that once cut is on a limited timespan.

“Many people want to put up their tree, trimmings and decorations on December 1 and we start selling the weekend preceding that date. It helps us and other Christmas tree sellers by spreading out the days we have available to sell but it’s important to remember that they still need watering regularly to maintain them.

“The ideal time to buy so your tree looks great throughout Christmas is still probably around December 8, but then lots of people feel the earlier they come along the better choice they will have.

“Where we pride ourselves is on the service we offer. We trim the trunks and ensure every customer leaves the farm feeling they have a tree they will be proud of once they have it in their home.”

Martin and Cheryl don’t leave their own tree purchases to chance. In September each year they spend time with growers in Scotland assuring they receive the right grade of tree in November.

Their location just off the M1 is ideal and Cheryl has seen their additional trade in decorations and wreaths blossom since adding to their repertoire.

“I go to the trade fairs at Harrogate and the NEC in January and February making sure we have the right selection of goods that customers are looking for and by having the reindeer and Santa here we’re becoming a Christmas attraction. It’s free to see them but we also take donations for our local Forget-Me-Not Children’s Hospice and raised £1,200 last year.”

Woolley Edge Christmas Tree Farm now takes its bow.

It’s a family effort too with Martin and Cheryl’s sons Harry, 18, and Tom, 15, helping out. Their only concession is that they want to have their tree up as quickly as everyone else.